Interview with Alan Jones, 2GB

  • Transcript E&OE
Subjects: Coronavirus; Australians stranded on cruise ships around the world.
27 March 2020

Alan Jones: I mentioned earlier this morning, these people are people before they’re politicians and some of our politicians have been doing phenomenal work. Of course, the Prime Minister, Greg Hunt, Josh Frydenberg, I mentioned Gladys and the bushfires but none better than this Marise Payne. She was virtually unknown to people until very recently. I might add, she was a bit of a glass ceiling-breaker. She was the first woman, Marise Payne, first woman to serve as Federal President of the Young Liberals way back in 1989. She has been in the Parliament for 23 years, elected as a Senator- a replacement Senator and then elected a full term in 2001.

She's now the Foreign Minister. It's a logistical nightmare. We've got thousands of Australians frantically trying to get home from all over the world, we’ve spoken to her several times before. Some cases are straightforward direct flights. Others are on cruise ships either at sea or at a port. And Marise Payne and her department have had to try and coordinate all of this.

I've got to tell you, I give this woman at this point about 50 out of 10. If you've got any concerns, there is a 24-hour line you can ring 1-300-555-135, 1-300-555-135, 1-300-555-135. There's a website DFAT dfat.gov.au, dfat.gov.au.

The Foreign Minister is on the line. Minister, good morning. Thank you for your time. It's much appreciated. Thank you for your efforts.

Marise Payne: Good morning, Alan, you're very generous.

Alan Jones: Not at all. No, no. I'm a hard marker. You've done a wonderful job. Look, I- just- I spoke to you on January 31 and I know this is in hindsight and I made the point back then that Australia should have closed its borders to foreigners, shut the virus out. That wasn't done then until some weeks later. In hindsight, was that a mistake?

Marise Payne: Well, I think we were always taking the medical advice, Alan, and what we have determined in- in fact making decisions around China [audio skip] you used that example on the 29th of January we said: reconsider your need to travel. On the first of February, we said do not travel and we insisted that anyone who was returning from mainland China would self-isolate for two weeks and that has been an effective method of subduing the spread of the coronavirus.

In fact, tens of thousands of Chinese-Australians did return in that period and did not contribute in any way to the number of infections. So we're managing- we've managed it carefully, we've managed it in a very considered way and I must say, you were very generous to me, but I am watching the work that Professor Brendan Murphy and the chief medical officers of the states and territories undertake and it is superlative.

Alan Jones: Yeah. A lot of work. People up all night and I know that. Look, just on the things we've talked about. Peru — there are more than 200 Australians stranded in Peru. You have secured a flight to get them home?

Marise Payne: We have. We're working with Chimu Adventures which is an Australian travel company who are going to manage those charter operations out of Cusco and Lima in Peru. The first flight, we hope, subject to Peruvian Government agreement, will hopefully take place on Sunday. It is difficult to get those permissions. There are only four flights total a day out of Lima and they must all depart from a military airport. So it's a case of make a formal applications and seeking permission.

Now if that flight is successful, then we will continue to work with Chimu on further flights because I appreciate there are larger numbers than that currently in Peru.

Alan Jones: Argentina? Argentina?

Marise Payne: Argentina — we will have to look at charters as well, separately. Chimu was looking at Argentina but indeed, they will be taking a flight out of Peru and another out of Montevideo in Uruguay with some cruise ship passengers.

So I'll be working today with my department on Argentina and what that looks like. There's a number- significant number of Australians. It's not clear to us at this point exactly how many of those wants to return [audio skip] 500 are on cruise ships and we presume they will want to return. So our Ambassador there is painstakingly going to go through that process.

Alan Jones: Righto. The Norwegian Jewel, talking about cruise ships, that's resolved. Two hundred Australians flew home — well done — from Hawaii. They’re now self-isolating at the Swissotel in Sydney for two weeks. Who pays that bill by the way?

Marise Payne: I understand in the case of the Norwegian Jewel that that is carried by the cruise ship company, but every case will be different and that is a- that's really a work in progress, given that we still have about 22 cruise ships out there …

Alan Jones: [Talks over] Yes. I know.

Marise Payne: … with almost 2500 Australians.

Alan Jones: The Norwegian Spirit. These people were docked at Cape Town. There could be 300 Australians on board. They were said to be kicked off today and they can't get flights home. What can you say to those people?

Marise Payne: We are talking to Qantas about flights from South Africa. That was an unexpected shutdown by the shutdown — not unexpected — nothing at the moment can be described as unexpected actually, but that was a shutdown from the South African Government which was not in prospect.

So we are talking to Qantas about those flights. Qantas, if I may say, and Virgin, are being very helpful wherever they are able to be, to ensure we can bring Australians home in a way that is safe for them and also safe for Australians…

Alan Jones: [Talks over] Good on you.

Marise Payne: We’re very aware of the need to ensure Australians are safe, travelling Australians return.

Alan Jones: The Ocean Atlantic is off the coast of Argentina, this cruise ship. You think you’ve got a flight for these people? When will that leave?

Marise Payne: So it is dockside now, the Ocean Atlantic, in Montevideo and Australians and New Zealanders are remaining on board until that flight is confirmed. We hope to be able to secure departure permission from that flight from the Uruguay Government, perhaps for early to the middle of next week. It takes at least 72 hours for the application to be processed. That will also bring some New Zealanders back, which I think will be an enormous relief to them as well.

Alan Jones: This is an impressive performance — I’m saying to my listeners — this is an impressive performance by a federal Minister, I can tell you. The Zaandam in South America — now, I understand there are 100 Australians on board, they’re trying to get to a port in Florida — more than 100 of the people on board have flu-like symptoms. What can you tell those people?

Marise Payne: This is a difficult vessel, Alan, and there’s a couple which do have some significant medical issues, including flu-like symptoms. We are currently ensuring that medical supplies and testing kits are being supplied to the ship. We are expecting it to dock in the United States. So, those testing processes will be underway and we will then have to work with officials in the United States in terms of how those passengers are supported. Some may need medical attention in place and others will be able to return. But I must also say to your listeners, every single one of these is a case-by-case process. No one ship, no two ships are the same.

Alan Jones: [Talks over] Are the same. Costa Victoria is in Rome — 200 Australia's on board — they either have to get off the boat or stay. People on board, I'm told, are sick. They are going to be dumped [audio error] in the middle of the corona virus outbreak. Marise Payne: So, the Italian Government has a range of requirements in place themselves, as we would expect, and we are offering consular assistance to the Australian passengers who are on board. Once those- once they are on land it's much easier for us to do that, obviously.

The Italian Government will not permit commercial flights until after there’s been a 14-day quarantine period, but they will permit a special charter flight to Australia at any time. So, we will work with the cruise ship company who have been very helpful. There are a number of vessels that have had Australians carried by Costa that we have been working on. And we will work with the cruise ship company to see how we can assist them. The Costa Victoria was to go to Venice which was very concerning, of course, given its location in what Italy has been described as a red zone. The fact that it has been able to port much closer to Rome is in fact a better outcome and we'll continue to work with them. I can only imagine how difficult this is for family back here, Alan, we're very conscious of that and trying to support the Australians as much as we can.

Alan Jones: [Talks over] I know. You’re wonderful. You’re wonderful. It’s very reassuring. There's another boat just too in here near Argentina which isn't named. There are said to be 100 Australian doctors and medical experts on board. They were attending a conference. Do we know what the status is of that boat?

Marise Payne: I believe you're probably talking about the Roald Amundsen, and they will take a charter flight — in fact that may have occurred yesterday — to take them into Santiago and then a further charter flight from Santiago to Sydney. So, we've been providing information to the cruise companies that they're able to distribute to the passengers when the Australian Border Force confirm what quarantine requirements will be. And that brings me back to our aim being to get Australians home in a way that's safe for them and safe for Australians…

Alan Jones: [Talks over] And just a quick one before you go, these boats in WA off the coast — 600 Australians. Now, is that okay? They'll go to quarantine on Rottnest Island?

Marise Payne: Yes, they will. And between my colleagues in Western Australia, the Western Australian Premier, the Australian Border Force and DFAT, we've been working on ensuring all of that quarantine or self-isolation process is observed, and that those who have medical conditions are supported by medical authorities there in Western Australia.

Alan Jones: Okay. Look, I don't know what to say but look, a quick word, just a quick word before we go to the news for people overseas, families here?

Marise Payne: Well, Alan, we understand this is unprecedented. This is a very, very difficult time for Australians who are overseas and for their families. We have taken over 18,000 calls through my department just in Australia since January, and we've updated the travel advice a thousand times.

Alan Jones: Good on you.

Marise Payne: So, these are important tools for Australians to use. I can assure Australians that we are working very hard to support their family members [indistinct]…

Alan Jones: [Talks over] Fantastic. Wonderful job. Very grateful, Minister Marise Payne. Many, many thanks.

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